Public Service Broadcasting’s bold manifesto is to ‘teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future.’ The London based experimental musical duo consisting of J.Willgoose Esq. and Wrigglesworth II take samples from old archive footage, propaganda newsreels and public information films and blend them with soaring electronic post-rock grooves to produce something genuinely inspiring and original!
After generating a buzz with their début single ‘ROYGBIV’ they were soon being lauded by critics and fans alike for their ‘The War Room EP‘ which was quickly followed by the profoundly wonderful ‘Everest.’ Now their highly anticipated début album ( based on Reithian principles obviously,) “Inform – Educate – Entertain” is set to drop on 06 May 2013.
If there were any concerns as to whether J Willgoose Esq and his seemingly limitless supply of spiral topped percussionists could produce a body of work to sustain an entire album, fear not because “Inform – Educate – Entertain” is a spell-binding triumph. It may lack the cohesive and somewhat heroic narrative of ‘The War Room’ but it’s the quality of the bands imaginative compositions, the intelligent use of samples and the quite wonderful musicianship that make this one of the most interesting and innovative albums of the year so far.
Only one song survives from ‘The War Room Ep,’ the soaring ‘Spitfire’ , and whilst nothing quite matches the inspiring, poignant and incredibly moving musical pinnacle that is ‘Everest’, Public Service Broadcasting manage to sound genuinely pioneering and thankfully nothing like the egg headed descendants of Paul Hardcastle. They employ samples with an intuitive wit and intelligence, that perfectly match and compliment the tone of the music. ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ does exactly what it says on the tin and then some, and manages to sound novel without any whiff of novelty, new and fresh but with a warm ambience of nostalgia. In short, it’s engaging, effective, affecting, and highly recommended.
We spoke to J Wilgoose Esq himself in order to be educated and entertained, to find out how the band started out and what the future may bring…
VP: A musical concept based on Reithian principles? Reinforced by a debut album entitled Inform, Educate, Entertain. How did the idea for PSB EVOLVE?
J. Willgoose Esq: I like the use of the word ‘evolve’, there – that’s basically how it happened, very slowly and over time. I started fiddling about with a bit of archive footage about 4 years ago after hearing a Tom Robinson-fronted Archive Hour on Radio 4, which detailed the release of some BFI / COI films online for the first time. It also interviewed Rick Prelinger, who runs the quite staggeringly excellent Prelinger Archives. So those were the first sources for me, really, and I just started making music around them. As I progressed I added various bits and bobs along the way – visuals first, on an old TV set, then live drums, then a bigger stage setup – it’s an idea and a concept that continues to evolve, and that’s the exciting thing. The bigger it gets, the bigger the ideas need to be.
VP: So what exactly is J. Willgoose Esquire’s back-story? He seems to know a cornucopia of folk called Wrigglesworth!
J. Willgoose Esq: It’s a long and complicated (and partially illegal) story, far too long to tell here. Let’s just say it involves corduroy, a not inconsiderable number of elbow patches, a penchant for black and white television footage, and being raised atop a radio mast by wolves. Technically-minded wolves with a fine grasp of radio communications technology, of course, but wolves nonetheless.
As for Wrigglesworth, yes – that was a most fortunate turn of events. To find one excellent drummer with such a fantastic name was a boon; when it came time to replace Wrigglesworth the First, we were incredibly pleased and surprised to discover a second such character, blessed with an equally remarkable curly set of hair. We’ve probably drained that well of talent, to be honest, but we’ll see.
VP: Which way does it work? Do you discover sound bites, which inspire the musical concept or do you seek out samples that fit into music that is already fully formed?
J. Willgoose Esq: It can, does and, indeed, has happen(ed) both ways, to be honest. With Spitfire, I had the opening riff and knew what role I wanted the song to fulfil on the EP (The War Room), but didn’t know what material I was going to end up using. I originally wanted to use the film Target For Tonight, but the BFI didn’t have a copy to hand, so I ended up delving back into the archive and emerging with The First Of The Few, which was a most fortunate stroke of luck, I must say, and that film provided the memorable quotes that made that song what it was.
For Everest, by contrast, I watched the film first and then set about writing something sympathetic to it. A few lines stood out for me – ‘two very small men, cutting steps in the roof of the world’, for one, and the section on altitude sickness for another. I knew I wanted to use at least those two, and that the second one would probably be as part of a slightly trippy, wobbly middle section that divided the song. And then the melody came out one day. I don’t know where it came from, but I’m certainly glad it arrived – it took the song (and the footage I think) to another place.
VP: Your Ep the War Room had an obvious theme running through (erm.. War, propaganda) but the Album seems a more eclectic mix? What was the actual idea behind the album?
J. Willgoose Esq: Well spotted on The War Room! Yes, you’re right, the album is a lot broader in scope musically as well as thematically. I suppose if The War Room was a concept EP, the album is more a reflection of us as a band and as a concept. It’s indicative of the kind of music we want to make and the kind of things we’re interested in. And I think it broadly fulfils its mission, namely to inform, to educate and to entertain – albeit with a heavy emphasis on entertaining, as is quite right and proper.
VP: A friend once described your live show as an engrossing cross between Professor Magnus Pike at a rave , the Royal Institution Xmas Lectures mixed with a tad of thrash metal.. How would you describe the PSB live experience?
J. Willgoose Esq: I’m not sure where the thrash metal comes in, but otherwise your friend has fairly hit the nail on the head there. It’s quite definitely live, that’s the main thing. The drums, a great deal of guitar, a lot of the electronics and of course the banjo are all done live. I wanted to offer up the exact opposite to the man-checking-his-email laptop show, which I personally find frustrating and dull to watch. There’s no musical engagement involved. Our show I think offers that extra level of engagement, and then on top of that there’s the heavy visual element to add extra layers of complexity and emotion. Or just some nice pictures to look at, anyway.
VP: What sort of Musicians have influenced PSB
J. Willgoose Esq: All sorts. Radiohead are a massive influence in terms of how they carry themselves as much as their excellent music. They’ve never let anyone dictate to them the kind of music they should be making, they just get on with doing what they want to do. In terms of sampling, DJ Shadow and especially his Endtroducing album are never far from the surface. And then in terms of attention to detail when it comes to sound, Massive Attack are a continual inspiration. I could listen to Teardrop all day long and still find something new in it. But besides those, I listen to all kinds of music. I reckon the more diverse the music you listen to, the more diverse the music you write. If you want to be an interesting writer, you almost have a duty to listen to as much different music as possible.
VP: The Prodigy famously used the “Charlie Says” public information film to score a cult hit, have you thought about exploring the use of those kinds of public info films? If so, I would thoroughly recommend the ‘Charlie Says’ DVDs vol I and II which are a veritable treasure trove!
J. Willgoose Esq: Hmmm… yes, you see, it’s kind of been done before. I mean I’m not against doing things other people have done before as long as I feel we can put a new spin on it or bring something uniquely ‘us’ to it, but I don’t really think Charlie Says has the depth or complexity to appeal to us on that level. And I’ve never been a big fan of The Prodigy either, to be honest. It’s also a bit more novelty and kitsch, and while I’m not against a measure of either of those turning up in our music, I’d like to think that there are more rewarding and broad themes for us to investigate in the coming years. We’ll see.
VP: I guess the scope could be limitless you could use classic iconic sound-bites from all manner of sources – Iconic movies. Are there any particular famous lines you would love to incorporate in future PSB projects?
J. Willgoose Esq: You see this seems to be the divisive issue when it comes to people speculating about our future. Some people (a lot) seem to take the definition of our name and purpose rather narrowly, which I think is rather a failure of imagination on their part, and ask rather foolish questions about what happens when we run out of footage (as if that would ever be possible). I liken it to asking a singer what happens when he runs out of notes. You, however, have taken the other road, and recognised that basically we can go where we want with this, as long as licensing doesn’t become an issue. I salute you. Well done.
In terms of famous lines… I have a few I’d like to use that’ve certainly been used a few times before, but not the way I’d use them, if that makes sense. It’s like Ridley Scott said when he went to film Blade Runner in the Bradbury Building – lots of people told him it’d been done before, but he had the confidence (and arrogance) to say: ‘Not the way I’m going to do it’. So… I’m keeping my cards close to my chest, but you’ll see, I hope.
VP: And to the future? I’m sensing collaborations with the likes of Stephen Hawking, Brian Cox etc in huge live ‘concept set pieces’ that would make Jean Michel Jarre look like he’d messing about with a couple of torches and a box of Swan vesta! Who would you like to collaborate with?
J. Willgoose Esq: I have a list as long as my arm (and I have quite long arms), but the main thing is that it should be someone who works within the scope of what we do. If we could get permission to do some kind of David Attenborough-themed special, that would be me in dreamland. I’m not sure we will, but a man can dream.
VP: Five words to sum up PSB besides “Inform Educate, Entertain”
J. Willgoose Esq: Life-affirming. Joyous. Epiphanic. Modest.